"Polar Bear Express" to
On Sunday, we rode the Ontario Northland's Polar
Bear Express train for the 180 mile trip to Moosonee (and back).
The train runs during the summer months primarily for tourists, stopping only at
Moosonee. Year-round there is a companion train, the Little Bear,
that makes other stops on the route. These trains are heavily used by the
populations of Moosonee and Moose Factory Island - the only other transportation
into or out of those areas is by air, which is very expensive in comparison.
The train passes through typical Northern muskeg - very similar
to what we've seen in the far North of British Columbia.
Once in Moosonee, we boarded a very crowded
school bus for a tour of the area. An abandoned Air Force base in town has
been converted to housing and a school for the residents. The adjacent
Moose Factory Island was the site of a Hudson's Bay Company trading post in the
1800s. There are remnants of the post and quarters, but they're in pretty
tough shape. As with other Northern communities, mobility actually
increases during the winter months because you can go pretty much anywhere you
want by snowmobile, or even cross the frozen-over river to the Island in a
We arrived back in Cochrane just before 11PM on
Sunday, just in time for a good night's sleep before we set out for an all-day
train trip to Toronto on Monday. New York City Tuesday morning after a(nother)
night at the Royal York Hotel.
I'm not sure of the ownership of the Ontario
Northland Railroad. There is clearly government money supporting this
operation, either at a Provincial or Federal level. It provides
vital freight and passenger service for many Northern Ontario
communities. Ridership was high on both trains we rode,
the Polar Bear Express and the Northlander. The cars were
comfortable, but extremely noisy. We appreciate the Talgo trains in the
Northwest as we ride other equipment!
|Many signs in Cochrane and
Moosonee are tri-lingual: English, French, and Cree Indian.
This sign was on our hotel room door.
||A full-length dome car is part of
the Polar Bear Express consist, which included six passenger coaches, two
sit-down diners, a cafe car, this dome car, and a bar/gift shop car.
||We rolled through mile after mile
of uninhabited muskeg. Click
here to compare this to what we saw in Northern BC on our trip to Fort
Nelson in 2001.
||One of the two sit-down diners
was also an end-of-train observation car. We enjoyed a good lunch and
dinner on board. The wait staff is almost exclusively young persons
working summer jobs, and is markedly more personable than the typical
passenger train crew.
|The Ontario Power hydro station
at Otter Rapids marks the end of the road for cars - you can drive no
further North. Even this remote outpost is no longer manned - it is
fully automated and operated from a control center some distance South of
||The Express crosses the
Moose River about 50 miles from Moosonee.
||The Moose River trestle,
photographed from the end-of-train diner.
||Mile after mile of muskeg....
|The station at Moosonee proclaims
this is the "Gateway to the Artic".
||Moose Factory Island is in the
distance (more or less). The ferry "Polar Princess" will
take us there from Moosonee.
||This is Zoe (zo-ee), a Cree
Indian with a brand spanking new puppy.
||This is the interior of the
Anglican church on the Island, which dates to the early 1800s.
There was a "tour guide story" that this church had floated some
distance off its foundation during a flood. Wooden plugs in the
floorboards were rumored to have been put there to keep the church from
floating away again. Our guide did offer that there was an
alternative, slightly less spectacular, explanation for the wooden plugs -
they may have been placed there to provide ventilation. (Natural
light photography required me to rest the camera on a pew - I'll straighten
it up when I get home.)
|The Anglican church on Moose
||A Cree Indian woman bakes (and
sells) bannock bread (with raisins!).
||Richard and Carol Pellegrine
decided an ice cream bar from the supply store was better than bannock on
this very warm day.
||The bannock baking teepee, along
with a bunch of our group waiting to reboard our (very cramped) school bus
we're using for our tour.
|The Hudson Bay factor (boss)
lived on the Island, which is why it's known as Moose Factory Island - not
because they make moose here. This is a grave marker for Alexander
McDonald, an HBC factor. Note the peculiar wording on the
marker: "Sown in corruption, raised in glory"
||Mo examines the marker for the
||A 50-some bed hospital on the
Island uses a central steam plant to heat the entire campus, which includes
the hospital, support buildings and housing for the staff. Because
of the severe winters, and near permafrost ground conditions, the steam
and other utilities are run overhead where they're easier to maintain.
||Communities further North on
James Bay depend upon barges loaded from boxcars for all their
supplies. Anything North of here is accessible by water or boat
only. It is possible to drive further North in the winter, and we
saw pieces of "tractor trains", which are truck trailers
equipped with skis instead of wheels. Several of these are lashed
together and towed over the frozen muskeg with a dozer.
|At Christ the King (Catholic)
Cathedral in Moosonee, there is a set of moose antlers behind the altar.
||Beautiful new (1987)
stained glass panels decorate the church.
||This parish covers the largest
geographic area, but serves the smallest number of people. We're not
sure of how global those comparisons are, but this must surely be true
within Ontario at least.
||A panel with an image of a Moose
appears just above the Cathedral entrance.
|Our train is parked at the
Moosonee station while we explore. The streets in town are very
dusty. Moosonee has a population of about 3,000, while
Moose Factory Island has another 3,500 or so. The population is
largely Cree Indian.
||On Monday morning, our train
bound for Toronto pulls into the station about 7:45 AM. This view is
taken from our hotel room window. We'll just walk downstairs and hop